The homes in Kerala, most of them nestling in verdant surroundings and enjoying peace and harmony once, are in a state of sociological flux faced with wrecked marriages, separated families, single mothers, abandoned parents and children and other afflictions of rapid urbanisation and invasion of western trends. The landscape itself is changing beyond recognition with old homes and structures giving way to new and costly mansions symbolic of the new thinking, behaviour and attitude that has crept in.
A young woman, an IT professional, who talked to me the other day, was a representatives of the times. Attractive and unmarried, she had not yet found a boy of her liking. In the course of her conversation she said, “There is no harm in having extramarital affairs. It gives you some diversion.” Though surprised, I realised how far today’s youth had gone in their perceptions. I tried to argue with her that a major reason for the increasing divorce rates in Kerala was the faithlessness of the spouses. She said even the institution of marriage was under threat and livein relationships was the norm.
Having grown up in a society which prided itself in the ‘till death do us part’ married life, the ‘old-fashioned’ generation is shell-shocked by the gay abandon with which young couples part ways quickly after marriage. One comes across a large number of couples among friends and family circles, closely-knit communities and elsewhere who have separated only after a brief spell of married life.
Psychologists today are busy trying to save troubled marriages.One of them recently related a case. The girl, a government employee, ended her relationship after three years of marriage.The boy is an IT professional belonging to a well-off family of the same community. Their arranged marriage was conducted after much deliberation and planning and, of course, spending lakhs of rupees. Their life seemed to be going fine till one day two months ago she came home bag and baggage abandoning her husband. The reasons were physical and psychological. “Even if the husband is a drunkard, when he comes home, he would be interested in sex. My husband has none of it,” she told the psychologist.
Outwardly a fine person, he concealed a brutalised psyche. He slapped her right on the face on some silly pretext and drew satisfaction finding her in tears. He threatened to do away with her often. The only child of his working parents, he confessed that he had never received love as a child. Married life for him, a product of the nuclear family, was an extension of his tortured self. This may be an extreme case of impotency aggravated by childhood experiences or work pressure. The growth of nuclear families has worsened the situation giving rise to imbalance in personality development and adjustment problems among the youth.
Once upon a time, parents impressed upon their daughters that they should treat the husband’s home as their own and the boys instinctively learnt from their parents that they had to take care of their wives till death. Now parents have come to terms with the possibility of early divorces and look for fresh alliances as soon as possible. Separation has become easy following an amendment made to the Divorce Act 1976, so that divorce can be granted by a family court if a couple agrees for mutual separation. Also a couple who live separately for one year can now apply for divorce. Earlier, the period was two years.
It is a crisis of trust and confidence that has gripped Kerala’s society and family life. The statistics are depressing. There has been a 350 per cent increase in the divorces over the last decade. The state is ahead not only in literacy, alcoholism and suicides, but also in separated families. The state accounts for just three per cent of the country’s population, but of the total 23. 43 lakh divorced or separated women in the country, 1. 96 lakh or 8. 36 per cent belong to Kerala, according to figures presented in Parliament.
As per the state government figures, between January 2011 and January 2012, the family courts in the state received 44,236 cases. The divorce cases of the last five years gives one an idea of where the state is headed for. The number was 8,456 in 2005-’06, 9,775 in 2006-’07, 9,937 in 2007-’08, 11,194 in 2008-’09, 11,600 in 2009- ’10 and 24,815 in 2010-’11 Thiruvananthapuram, the capital, leads with 6,000 cases. Kollam comes second (4,243), Thrissur (4,063), Kozhikode (4,008), Malappuram (3,934), Ernakulam (3,712), Kottayam (2,880), Pathanamthitta (2,044), Alappuzha (2,361), Idukki (1,161), Kasargod (987), and Wayanad (341).
Experts advance several reasons for the alarming situation, including alcoholism, a major curse. According to P M Chacko, a counsellor in Kochi, who works with a worldwide organisation ‘Marriage Encounter’ aimed at guiding the youth in marriages, behavioural attitudes and personal belief systems have undergone radical changes so that relationships are given the least priority. Being intellectually superior than the previous generation, the youth look at everything with a profit motive, self-gratification and enrichment. Highly individualistic, they do not know how to act as couples and share love. With no pre-marriage training, they innocently enter marriage and find the going tough. Sociologists say the youth in Kerala have no role models to follow with the breakdown of the joint family system.Men in Kerala are yet to accept wives as equal partners. Aware of their sexual rights and enjoying financial independence, women assert themselves and go their way rather than putting up with harassment by husbands or in-laws. Also, a divorced woman meets with no discrimination in society these days.
Religious leaders attribute marriage failures to the decline of religious faith. According to T S Philip, a senior priest of the Mar Thoma Church, the concept of marriage as god-ordained has changed to materialistic objectives. Parents control their children even after marriage, which is a leading cause of friction, he says. There may be a way out. According to Scott Stanley of the University of Denver, the more religious the couples are, the more committed they are to the partners and enjoy higher levels of marital satisfaction. We have to seriously debate whether this path will provide a solution to Kerala’s troubled matrimonial scene.
George Abraham is Deputy Resident Editor, Kerala and is based at Kochi.E-mail: georgeabraham@ newindianexpress.com